5 activities to support foreign or second language acquisition

The secret of learning a language is that there is no “secret”, basically a language is a tool for communication, and the best way to learn it and practice it is communicating. However, this can be difficult on a day to day basis, especially if both parents and children are busy with work, school, after school clubs and their social lives. So, this is when we really need our imagination and crafty hands to come up with interesting and fun activities that don’t look too much like “school” work.

Craft with bilingual children

1. Stop-motion and modelling clay day: I got this idea one day at my local library. A couple of youngsters working in a local association had put up an activity for the arts week. Basically they were using a load of modelling clay and crafty bits so children could make their own monsters. Later they would set up the characters in front of a camera, with a background and record a stop-motion movie. I did this activity with my French group and everybody loved it, the children got engrossed in creating little monsters and the parents helped them later on with a short movie. All the time everybody was speaking in French, and children heard and learnt new words, while at the same time meeting new and old friends and having a great time. We only did a very, very short movie, but the experience was very interesting especially as all the kids were under 5. You can check our movie out here.

You only need some modelling clay, crafty bits like goggly eyes, a bit of cardboard, pipe cleaners, or even short spaghetti (that I’ve just learnt can be used to make hedgehogs sticking them in a bit of modelling clay). For the software, we used an iPad and downloaded a very cheap app, it was only 5.99. With it you could record the movie and even record voice.

The feedback was very positive, given that everybody had fun, they felt they were doing something meaningful, and on top of that we covered the main aim of our group, getting the children immersed in the French language!


2. Music and rhythm: This is an activity I learnt from a reception class in a British school. In the UK kids start reception when they are 4 years old, so you would have 4 and 5 year olds in the same class.

The idea is getting them sitting and listening while doing something with their hands and feet, active learning. So, create a rhythm, ask them to clap their hands, then clap faster, then slower, then ask to skip one, so for instance first kids claps fast, next kid slow, next kid fast, and so on. You can repeat this with tapping feet, or any other movement or action you can think of. The idea is creating something like a rhythm and sequence. You can add musician instruments in the mix.

This way you will use language that the children will think it’s meaningful, as when you say “clap your hands” they will do this, so they know there is immediate reward, to get it right, join in and have fun. It is a nice way also to learn parts of the body and names of actions. You can adapt it to your own language. For instance, if there is a difference in how you use a word when it’s just one and when there are two, you can use this difference, “do this with one hand, now do these with two hands”, and so on.

3. Show and tell: In some groups this may work very well, if they kids are already speaking your home language. Also, shy children may be encouraged to speak, or even in they don’t this time, they may get the idea and have a go the next time. Ask children to bring something to the meeting, for instance their favourite toy, or something that they really like. They have to show it to the others, talk about it and answer questions.

4. Christmas card recycling: You can do this activity either after Christmas, or ask people to give you their old Christmas cards and keep them for the following year and do the activity before Christmas. Get the kids to bring their old Christmas cards, cut them up and you can get them to do a collage. Individual collages are a good idea, so they have something to show at home, or you can do a group one and show it as an example of collaboration.

Use the activity to encourage the use of vocabulary, by saying out loud what people are doing and what they have to do, for instance, “now we are cutting the cards”, “Peter is gluing the card”, “we have many different things, a Christmas tree, a flower, etc.”


5. Bookmark making activity: Laminators are simple but great inventions. With a few sheets of craft card in different colours, a few pictures cut out from magazines, dry flowers and any other bits and pieces people like, you can create amazing bookmarks. Just get the kids to glue their items on a bit of card that you have previously cut in the shape of a bookmark. Get a few together, place them in a laminating pouch, laminate and voilà, your bookmarks. Now you just have to cut them individually and punch a hole with a hole punch. Threat a bit of wool or ribbon through the hole, tie it up and that’s it.

Again as in the activity above, you can use the crafty time to encourage children and parents to talk in the language and use the vocabulary related to that activity. You can decide on a topic, so it could be animals, so children could practice that vocabulary, or it could be something else, you decide!


These are just a few basic ideas, it is by no means a comprehensive list of things that you can do to boost your children’s language acquisition. But what it is, however, is an example of how “normal” activities, those that you would do at any playgroup or even in a play date with friends, can be converted and adapted to language acquisition, even language learning in the foreign language classroom.


Do you have any other ideas that you would like to share with us?






Tips For Parents Who Want To Improve Their Own Language Skills

By Charles Gregory, January 2015

I know there are lots of parents out there who would love to bring their children up bilingually but unfortunately are not themselves bilingual. If that describes you, this post is written for you.

It’s a tough spot to be in, bringing your children up to be bilingual is a wonderful gift, but to be able to really immerse your children in your target language you need to be able to speak it yourself.

The good news is that becoming fluent in a second language is actually not that hard, I know this because I have done it myself (and am well on the way to fluency in my third language).


A Common Myth

It is often believed that adults are not as good at language learning as children. This is actually not true… While children are very good at picking up languages, adults have a huge advantage – they can already speak one language!

A dedicated adult can reach a pretty high level in a second language with a year of part-time study. Compare that to a child who will normally take 2 or 3 years before being able to form simple sentences.

So no excuses! If you really want to learn that language, here’s how:

The First Rule: You Need Words

Many language courses focus too much on grammar, but most people find grammar boring. Remember, the reason you want to learn is because you want to be able to speak. The single most important thing then is to learn lots of words.

When starting a new language I like to aim for around 2,000 words…

That may seem like a lot, but if you learn 10 new words per day you will get there in just over 6 months. That’s very doable, but even at 5 or 6 per day it will only take a year. When I started learning Spanish I aimed for 20 words per day on average.

Chinese writing

How To Do It

The first step is to come up with a list of words. Start with a spreadsheet, in one column you will have the English word and in the other the translation.

The list should be a mix of verbs, nouns, adjectives and adverbs and should be based on which words you will use most often. If you Google “top 100 verbs in X language” that will be a good start.

I also recommend including a separate entry for different conjugations:

                  What is a conjugation?

                  In English we conjugate verbs like this:

                  Verb: to be (irregular)
Conjugations: I am, you are, he is…

                  Verb: to dance (regular)
Conjugations: I dance, you dance, he dances…

                  Here’s an example in Spanish:

                  To be (for traits): Ser
I am: Soy
You are: Eres
He is: Es

Do this for all of the most common verbs and uses, and include past and future tenses too (eg, I danced, I was dancing, I have danced, I will dance etc…)

Some people try to just learn the patterns, but learning the actual conjugations will help you to be much more fluent when you start speaking, and you will learn the patterns intuitively, so that eventually you be able to conjugate new verbs based on what sounds right.

Memorising The Words

Ok, so you have a list of 2,000 words to memorise, what next? This may seem like a mammoth challenge, but you will be amazed by what you can achieve when you try.

I like to use a free computer program called Anki.

Anki is a “Spaced Repetition” program. In simple terms, it shows you new vocabulary over and over at timed intervals. So the first time you learn a new word it will show you that same word again a minute later, then 5 minutes later, then 10 minutes…

The more times you review a word the more ingrained it becomes in your memory and so the longer the interval becomes. Each time, you will see the English word and you try to remember the translation, if you remember correctly you mark it as correct and the interval gets a little bit longer. If you forgot it, the interval resets to one day so you can relearn it.

It should only take around 15-30 minutes per day if you do it every day. You will learn 10 new words each day and review any old ones that are due to ensure you don’t forget them.


The Second Rule: You Need To Speak

Once again: don’t worry too much about grammar. As soon as you have a vocabulary of 500-800 words you have plenty with which to start talking. At first you will speak in a very broken way, but you will be able to make yourself understood.

The great thing is, because you already have the vocab in your brain, when you start using it it will move to your fast memory and things will slot into place incredibly quickly. It often only takes 5-10 hours of speaking practice to get to the point of being able to hold a simple conversation.

So what are the options?

Move Abroad:

If you can live in a country where they speak your target language then that’s ideal (you lucky thing) but if not, don’t worry…

Get A Language Tutor:

Face to face practice with a professional tutor is ideal, especially when starting because the tutor can answer any questions you have about why things are said a certain way and they will be able to plan lessons around your ability level.

You can find a UK based language tutor here, or of course on plenty of other sites online. I would suggest telling your tutor that you mainly want to practice conversation and avoid English as much as possible (even if doing so is tough at first).

Get An Online Tutor:

This is best in addition to a language tutor (and a good way to save money). There are plenty of sites online where you can find online language teachers for conversation practice. This site has plenty of native speakers all over the world.

An advantage to this is that you can select a teacher who doesn’t speak much English. This will force you to use your target language.

Language Exchanges:

If you want to save money, and don’t mind giving up some of your time, you could try a language exchange. The way it normally works is that you find a partner who speaks your target language and wants to practice their English. You then chat (via Skype) for 30 minutes in English and 30 minutes in your target language.

                  Bonus Tip:
                  During your conversations you will come across new words, ask your tutor to write them                down and after your session, add them to your Anki deck, this is an excellent way to      supplement your Vocabulary.

The Third Rule: Put In The Time

The reality is that when you are learning the right way, it doesn’t take that much time to improve. If you can put aside 20 minutes per day to review your vocab on Anki and then 3 hours per week for conversation (either with a tutor or online), you will soon be able to converse at a basic level.

If you can get your other half to do the same, then pretty soon you will find that you can chat to one another in the target language, and that is when the true immersion will start!

Other Tips

Finally, don’t be afraid to try other things to help round out your learning. Here are a few suggestions:

  • When learning vocab, use Forvo to check how to pronounce them correctly
  • Get a Kindle and get some children’s books in your target language
  • Find some music in your target language, learn the words and sing along to it